Friday, November 5, 2010


"The Calling of St. Matthew", 1599-1600, San Luigi dei Francesi, Rome. (Reproduction cropped top and bottom.)

This is one of Caravaggio's most famous paintings, "The Calling of Saint Matthew". I have seen it in reproduction so many times and was very exited to get to see it "live" when I was in Rome recently.

I enjoyed its technical mastery and composition, - particularly the light that comes in from the top right corner, falls on Christ's hand, and illuminates the sitting men's doubtful looking faces and the money in front of them on the table.

And it was interesting to see, within the walls of a church, the greedy counting of money in such a gritty and cellarlike room. But I experienced an even greater contrast between the next two paintings and their ecclesiastical surroundings. They are placed on either side of the very colorful and celestial "Assumption of the Virgin" by Carracci, in Santa Maria del Popolo.

"The Crucifixion of Saint Peter", 1600-1601, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

"The Conversion of Saint Paul", 1601, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

Do you see how literally down to earth Caravaggio has chosen to tell these two stories? - The dirty feet and dug up gravel on the ground below the cross in the first picture. - And the tangle of horse legs and human legs in "The Conversion of Saint Paul". Here, the spiritual is brought down not only to the contemporary everyday, but to the very practical and dirty reality of pushing a cross into a vertical position, or possibly being stepped on by a horse when one has been struck to the ground by a blinding vision of Christ.

In both paintings the light serves not only to accentuate the main character, but also to create a very intimate visual room for us to enter. And you can see how the light creates a similarly intimate setting in the last painting, where Christ helps his mother crush the head of a snake that symbolises original sin.

"Madonna of the Palafrenieri", 1605-1606, Galleria Borghese, Rome.


Vantage Point Vintage said...

These are such beautiful works, I'm so jealous you were able to see them in person, thanks for sharing!

Jenny @vpv

CELINE said...

Thank you for stopping by!

Synnøve said...

Vi så dem! Husker det klart og tydelig! Alle tre - Matteus' kallelse, Matteus og engelen, og Matteus' martyrium. Masse folk! Tror ikke jeg hallusinerer...

CELINE said...


Anonymous said...

“and illuminates the dice-playing men's faces and the money in front of them on the table.

And it was interesting to see, within the walls of a church, the controversial image of a gambling man being chosen by Christ”

The calling of St. Matthew has nothing to do with gambling. St. Matthew was a tax collector and that is a tax collection table, not any form of gambling.



CELINE said...

Thank you so much for this very important correction! It goes to show how dangerous it is not to double check my assumptions, especially when my knowledge of the Bible is so embarrassingly limited. I have now edited the text.